A 30-Year-Old’s Diary Entries From Late October, 1981


Tuesday, October 20, 1981

2 PM on a cool, dark day. When I got to Broward Community College today, I found notices in my mailbox from Dr. McFarlane and Dr. Grasso informing me of the regulation that says only full-time, permanent faculty are entitled to incentive awards.

McFarlane’s memo was snotty and he sent carbon copies to everyone but the janitor. Suddenly I felt weak in the knees, nauseated. It was if I had been caught misbehaving.

But after talking with Phyllis Luck, I realized that I was entirely in the right. The BCC administrators are a bunch of bullying crooks, and I’m more than able to deal with them.

The one thing they’re scared of is adverse publicity, and getting publicity happens to be one thing I excel in.

I am now more certain that ever that I’ve got to get out of academia in general and BCC in particular. I am too damn smart to waste my life in a dead-end job.

Reading Landon Jones’s book on the baby boomers last night, I realized how much of our generation’s lives is controlled by demography.

And demographics show that college teaching is an increasingly dead-end profession. Not only are there are fewer students of college age, but a smaller percentage will actually attend college as they see it doesn’t help them land a job.

So what am I going to do for the next six months? Miriam’s visit, combined with today’s events, made me see that I’ve got to concentrate on the important things: writing and personal growth.

So I won’t attend today’s English Department meeting and I won’t go to Staff Development Day on Thursday and I won’t substitute for other teachers unless I really want to.

I intend to do as little work as possible. I’m likely to get into trouble, but Phyllis said they probably wouldn’t fire me in the middle of the year, no matter what. All they can do is wait for me to leave.

As Phyllis said, South Florida is no place for someone like me to live. My idiotic South Florida stories perfectly express the banality of life here. I can’t wait to shock everyone with the book.

Also, there aren’t intelligent people here who could read most of my previous work; at least this little book, with its first-grade primer vocabulary, will certainly be accessible.

Oh, I wish I could get an NEA fellowship – not for the money, but so I could show these people how good I am and how I don’t need them or their job! Of course, I won’t get one, but I have these great revenge fantasies.

I’m glad, actually, that I have something to spur me on to become a successful writer. There are a lot more struggles ahead.

Mom is definitely going to New York with Dad this weekend. Now I think not only Grandpa Herb but also Grandma Ethel is dying. The bruises all over her body are an ominous sign that her lymphoma has returned. Marc took her to the doctor, who told Grandma Ethel to see the specialist at University Hospital.

Oh, how I wish I could have gone to New York with Miriam last night and that I could see my grandparents again and be there to do something for them.

God knows, they are more important to me than teaching ninth grade – which is what I’m doing at this community college. No, actually I’m teaching things that my classmates and I did in seventh grade at Meyer Levin Junior High.

Jeffrey Knapp called to remind me about our reading at the Miami Waves Festival this Saturday, and I told Selma I’d take her to Poetry in a Pub on Sunday.

I have over a hundred papers to grade, lessons to plan, letters to answer – and all I want to do right now is sleep.

Friday, October 23, 1981

8 PM. I feel so weary. Even though I worked only three days, this week has left me more tired than ever. And I don’t see any relief this weekend.

I’m under a lot of stress. That’s why I broke a tooth, why my other teeth ache, why I’m so dizzy and have diarrhea and don’t sleep well. I feel like a mess.

Part of it, I’m sure, is the difficulty adjusting to my new home. I now have responsibilities I didn’t have before, and my life is more complicated.

Miriam’s visit was wonderful, but it also made me feel that I am wasting my life, that I am not really living – not the way Miriam and her friends in San Francisco are.

I feel old, suddenly. Again, part of it is my own fault. I’m very demanding of myself. I must answer every letter the day I receive it. I must methodically make my way through every magazine and journal I get, looking for some way to advance my precious career.

Type A behavior: It will end up doing to me what it did to Grandpa Nat, and then I’ll have years of absolutely no stress – nor any consciousness, either.

I taught very hard today, and although I’d prepared a dynamite lesson for my 2 PM class, Dr. Grasso forgot to come and observe me.

Yesterday I spoke with Jeffrey Knapp, whom I’ll be reading with tomorrow at Miami Waves: he has only two classes and wonders how the hell I could teach so much. I’m beginning to wonder that, too.

Miriam said burnout is the latest catch-phrase: well, I think I’ve got it.

It’s also that things are adding up to make me feel powerless: The tooth problem. The fact that our union is getting only a 9% pay increase, non-retroactive – and the administration told the negotiating committee that if they don’t recommend approval of the contract, we’ll get only 8%.

Jacqui, Alan and Mick were very upset about that. They think that Carlos Diaz, the union president, is too polite and maybe even a lackey for the board. (Jacqui said, “Richard should be union president – he’d sit down with Dr. Hamilton and say “Fuck you!”)

I wrote a letter to the Broward editor of the Herald telling her to cover Monday’s meeting; if the union had gotten some publicity all along, maybe we would have gotten a better contract.

But the BCC teachers will end up voting yes. As Alan said, “They’re pussies.”

I also think not getting my grant money is beginning to get to me. It’s a week till the end of October and it’s not here yet and I wonder if it will ever arrive.

This afternoon, after driving Marilyn to pick up her new car in Plantation, I came home to exercise – I needed it badly – and to finish writing my cover letters for job applications. I think I should begin collecting rejection letters soon, at least from those colleges who even bother to acknowledge my applications.

Nine weeks of the term are over, and there are seven weeks until finals. I can’t wait for the Christmas holidays.

Sunday, October 25, 1981

8 PM Standard Time. The weekend, with its extra hour, did me a lot of good. I got caught up on my sleep, and this morning I lay out in the sun for two hours; a nice tan always lifts my spirits.

Yesterday’s Miami Waves Festival also helped. Held in the Koubek Center in Little Havana, it featured experimental films and video and art and performances.

When I got there, at 2 PM, some people were holding giant black box radios making buzzing noises in some weird dance; they were followed by a punkish electronic music group.

I met Jeffrey Knapp and his wife Dina, an artist who had the new wave-ish look and vibe I’ve seen in New York but never before down here. They designed some t-shirts for the festival.

They introduced me to Mary Luft, the coordinator of Miami Waves, who is supposed to be a fine performance artist in her own right.

The person I really had wanted to meet didn’t disappoint me: Lawyer and conceptual artist Glenn Terry, who was trying to break the (Alec) Guinness record for lying in a hammock with his clothes on backwards while doing bad magic-marker portraits of people for 50¢ each.

Glenn’s conversation was delightfully illogical and allusive, and after speaking to him for just a little while, I felt I had known him for years.

Joe Molinaro came by with his wife and daughter and agreed with me that the BCC administration is “unbelievably conservative.”

There weren’t all that many people at the festival, but I liked talking to Jeffrey, Dina, Glenn, a Cuban poet named Ura, and a very cute Cuban kid who was into John Cage, Philip Whalen and Burroughs. When I asked him if he wrote in English or Spanish, he said, “English,” and looked at me as if I were crazy. I can be so stupid sometimes.

Mary Luft did a great job creating Miami Waves. It was a pleasure to be with intelligent, artistic, progressive people: even if they are slightly pretentious (and they aren’t half as pretentious as Manhattan people), they are the people I want to be with, not the Kirt Dresslers and Clinton Hamiltons of the world.

Jeffrey and I gave our reading at 5 PM to a sparse crowd, most of whom I bullied into coming over to listen. (Sometimes I think I’d make a great fascist dictator.)

I read some of my stupid South Florida stories, which seemed to stupefy the crowd – but afterwards Jeffrey and his friend Steve Malagodi from WLRN, the public radio station, said I was terrific.

I felt good about myself as I drove the long, straight drive up 27th Avenue until it becomes University Drive in Broward. I love that drive, past the Spanish-signed storefronts of Little Havana, up to Liberty City and Opa-Locka with their charming slums and Biblical graffiti, into Miramar, Pembroke Pines and Davie. Although I don’t plan to stay in South Florida, I’ll always have good memories of the place. And as it’s my parents’ home, it will always be a second home to me.

At the Koubek Center grounds, I actually played with crunchy brown leaves that had fallen; it almost felt like autumn up North. Indeed, the weather here has changed: the nights are cool and the days are comfortably warm and breezy. In another few weeks, “the season” will begin.

Today I took Selma to Poetry in a Pub. Selma has such a hard life, but she manages to be an inspiration to me. She told me that before her stroke and her divorce, she was a frightened nebbish, but all her hardships made her find her strength.

I read the Sunday New York Times through most of the reading. Kirt is as slick as ever, and although that can work for an M.C. at a reading, he’s a terrible poet. (Jeffrey agreed with me on that but said Kirt’s conservative attitude toward art makes him a favorite of the establishment down here.)

Especially after seeing the cool experimentation at Miami Waves, I have less and less patience for the people at Poetry in a Pub, and I’m afraid I was rude to the featured poet, Debbie Grayson.

Oh well, at least I enjoyed dinner out with Selma afterwards.

Tuesday, October 27, 1981

4 PM. All of a sudden, I feel like crying.

I just got home and it’s 85° and I was lugging cartons of my books into the house when an old man told me, in broken English, that he had tried to take away my couch – the one that was outside – but that it didn’t get far in his room. He asked if I could help him move it back.

Already tired and dripping with sweat, I did help him and then got rewarded by locking myself out because the sliding door stuck. I finally unjammed it and came in the house and collapsed with tears.

Last night I called Mikey, who sounded all right; because of a support staff strike at Legal Aid, he’s been going in evenings to do his own paperwork. Mikey said that he’s planning a Club Med vacation with some friends in January but may come to visit me for a week in March.

I also called Josh to chat the way we used to, and at 11 PM, Teresa phoned from her friend Sharon’s house, where she was baby-sitting; a 21-year-old guy she met last weekend was coming over and she was excited and apprehensive.

Earlier in the day, Teresa finally reconciled herself to leaving the Borough President’s office. She had accompanied Andrew to Live at Five on WNBC, where she met Tony Randall and other celebrities. But she realized it was the end of the line for her.

Next week she has four interviews, all for good jobs. Ted’s visit made her crazy, of course, but now she’s finally over Frank.

I called her this afternoon at her office and she said the 21-year-old had “too much integrity” and said he wouldn’t take advantage of what he called her “too vulnerable” state.

Teresa will be coming here in two weeks.

This morning I had a pretty good 100 class and agreed to substitute for Jacqui at noon tomorrow. At Mom’s house, I did my laundry, got my mail and had lunch.

Liz Smith sent me a nice note but she wondered why Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog won’t be in bookstores and why I can’t watch her on Live at Five. (Obviously she didn’t notice my Florida address.)

Miriam sent me a copy of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which she told me about during her visit. Paul Fericano wrote his usual great letter, and Merritt Clifton sent a pack of Samisdat issues.

The Voice Literary Supplement gave me no mention, but there was an ad for Charles Collum’s New York Nude. I found a copy of the book in the mall, and of course I wasn’t in it; most of the models had better bodies than I do.

I felt rejected, and as I left the mall, I had an incredible flashback to ten years ago. Even this morning, I had the nagging feeling that something traumatic happened on this date. But at the mall, all my unhappiness of October 1971 seemed to flash around me.

I don’t think I’ve ever really gotten over the hurt of breaking up with Shelli. Since then, I’ve never allowed myself to trust people as lovers – not even Ronna – and I’ve never made myself that vulnerable again.

Over the past decade, I haven’t been hurt like that again, but I also have missed chances for intimacy. By now I don’t think I’m capable of falling in love: there have been too many years of caution.

Anyway, I fell into a wistful, self-pitying mood. As I told Mikey last night, occasionally I find myself wondering: What the hell am I doing here, living in a condo in suburban Fort Lauderdale, teaching in a community college, driving a station wagon, and wearing Sasson jeans?

I don’t know if I’m more afraid of the future or the past.

Wednesday, October 28, 1981

5 PM. Driving back home just now, I realized that despite my complaining, my life is better than it was a year ago when I felt like a complete loser.

If nothing else, the externals of my life are more aesthetic. Instead of crowding into a filthy subway for a long ride home to grey Rockaway, I now have a pleasant drive home through Plantation, with its palm trees, brand-new homes and placidity.

I don’t live in a chilly, grimy apartment building but in a cheerful, air-conditioned condo. I sleep in a king-sized bed. I drive cars that work – usually, anyway – and right now I have the Camaro.

I wear all of Dad’s Sasson samples: fashionable dress shirts and knit shirts, slacks, jeans, sweaters, jackets and belts – even underwear. I’m tanned and have a nice haircut and beard, and I’m skinnier than I used to be, though I have a way to go.

I’m less dependent on tranquilizers and generally feel that I’m under less stress. And I feel more like a winner: I’ve got that full-time college teaching job I wanted.

Even though it ain’t the ideal position, I am well-liked by my students (a lot of them say they want to take me next term), and I think the other faculty members treat me well.

I’ve got a $3,000 grant which should be coming any day now. The republication of Disjointed Fictions gave me a lift, and in a couple of months Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog will be released; whatever failure it is financially, it’s still another hardcover book, an object that I think contains some good stories.

I have money in the bank and I’m not living on the edge and I don’t owe my friends the money I did a year ago. Most of all, I feel that the hardships I had in 1980 have made it easier for me to cope in 1981.

Today I had a great lesson on commas in my 8 AM class. When I got back to the department, I found a note from Dr. Grasso apologizing for not coming to observe me on Friday. Figuring that I might as well get it over with, I told her to come to my 11 AM class today.

Between classes, I went home to my parents, but the station wagon stalled and wouldn’t start again. Instead of panicking – although the thought, “It’s always something,” came to me – I caught Jonathan and told him to take Dad’s car and leave me the Camaro.

I tried to relax by lying on Mom’s sofa and watching Big Wednesday, a film I’ve always wanted to see, on the Cinemax cable channel.

At 11 AM, I had a pretty good class although Dr. Grasso left in the middle. At noon I subbed for Jacqui, ate a quick lunch and then taught my 1 PM and 2 PM 101 classes.

It’s amazing that I could teach five 50-minute classes and not get tired. My station wagon started up again, but I decided to take the Camaro home just in case.

Linda Lerner wrote that she’s teaching five classes at three colleges (one of which, Borough of Manhattan Community College, forgot to put her on the payroll), looking for a publisher, and being threatened by Unemployment for money they claim she took this summer “in bad faith.”

No doubt about it: However sterile and banal and lonely my Florida life may be, it’s a hell of a lot better than adjuncting in New York. So I’ll stop complaining for a while.

I got two slices of pizza at Cozzoli’s in the mall and walked through the men’s department of Burdines, feeling as though I could pass for a handsome, fashionable, wealthy young professional.

Friday, October 30, 1981

4 PM. I didn’t get an NEA fellowship: I got the news this morning when I went to see Mom and Dad.

Sadly, none of my friends got grants, either: not Tom, George, Kevin, Rick, Susan Mernit, Cathy, Miriam, Pete, Linda Lerner, Paul, et al. Many of the recipients seem to be black or Hispanic; these two groups made up half of the grants panel.

Well, I’ll try again next year. Now I can stop fantasizing about having the $12,500. I suppose another year of working hard will build my character.

This week was exhausting: I taught 20 hours overall. Today all my classes wrote, and I had Jacqui’s noon class again. It would not be so bad if I didn’t have 180 papers to grade this weekend, and even that would be bearable if I didn’t have oral surgery tomorrow.

I feel like there’s no let-up in the work. Even if I were asked back at BCC next year, would I want to work this hard teaching endless sections of comp? No. As it is, I have almost no time to write.

But then how would I live next year?

I got my first “send your dossier, we’re interested” form letter today, from Miami (Ohio), but I don’t expect to get a full-time creative writing job elsewhere. For one thing, I have too little experience teaching creative writing.

Taking over Mick’s creative writing class night was a bit disheartening. One man was very cynical, and he kept asking me what was the point of my publishing books and stories that no one reads.

Still, he did ask for my “professional opinion” of a story he gave to Mick – and the other students seemed to take me seriously.

The hardest part is still to believe in myself and my worth as a writer. In this throwaway crap culture, that’s hard.

Eating at Arby’s: The South Florida Stores will be my way of saying “fuck you” to the masses. Hey, but I can’t let myself become bitter. After all, I now have $2,700 (the grant minus 10% held to the end of the fiscal year) sitting in the bank: that’s money given to me by the state in recognition of my talent.

Moreover, I should look at this week as a small triumph. Two years ago, not getting an NEA fellowship sent me into a deep funk for days; I’m taking the rejection better this year. And although my negative royalty statement for With Hitler in New York from Taplinger didn’t thrill me, basically I laughed it off.

This week I managed to work harder than I have in a long time, and I still had enough energy, to keep house, to shop, to take care of my correspondence and my chores.

Mom called from New York and said that Grandpa Herb looks about the same but that Grandma Ethel is shockingly thin and worn-looking. The doctors said her health problems were not caused by a recurrence of her lymphoma but brought on by the intense stress of caring for Grandpa and watching him die a little every day.

Grandpa Herb has been the focus of attention because of his lung cancer, and I’m sure that on some level Grandma Ethel resents this. What she needs is a vacation, but for now Mom is going to try to get her some household help.

Mom said that Dad was upset because Sasson for Men took away his Burdines commission and because the shirt people wanted him to go partners with Paul D’Avril’s salesman (both of them nixed the idea).

But Dad did very well at the New York menswear show, and Mom told me he turned down a job offer from Calvin Klein, who wanted Dad to give up his other lines.

I got nice letters from Cathy and from Susan Schaeffer, who wrote that she hates what’s happening to the Brooklyn College MFA program (“Master of Fine Ashbery”).

My oral surgery is at 9 AM tomorrow. I don’t want to be put to sleep. I have no idea how I’ll react to the surgery, but at least the wisdom tooth they’re taking out isn’t impacted.